Echoes of Invasion: The Society of Shadow | Scene 7

Although she does not have a wose to guide her thinking, Heppa is reaching similar conclusions elsewhere in the forest from her day of chatting with shadow mages about their research and the Book of Rhys. From the society’s perspective, the book is a valuable tome, given that they have been cut off from access to many other resources. Gaenyn complains that the great works of Crelanu are hoarded and kept from the light of day by those who do not understand them. Heppa adds that name to the list she needs to investigate, along with Helicrom, who was mentioned as the Guildmaster back when the shadow mages used a slightly different hierarchical structure.

The Society of Shadow is dismissive of all other mages, red or white, but have a particularly low view of necromancers. They restrict themselves to dark magics, whereas the society embraces all approaches. Gaenyn tells Heppa that his scholars are seeking power and understanding and strive to reach greater insights than those constrained by Alduin. What they are not seeking is unending life, the goal of most necromancers; lichdom is undeath, which a truly unhinged person might consider to be eternal life. Those opinions matter little to Heppa, given that undead sometimes rise as a byproduct of the society’s experiments. These shadow mages may not be calling what they do necromancy, but if it has the same effect, what does the nomenclature matter? 

After all her conversations today, finally, she has the answer to her question of whether forbidden magic is just necromancy, and the answer is a complicated yes. Magic that produces necromantic effects is labeled forbidden by the human magical hierarchy, and this shadow magic, whatever else it may entail, contributes to corruption in the same manner. 

Another sobering thought occurs to her as she mulls it all over. Maybe all human magic is inherently corrupting. Not fae magic, of course, because that goes through the proper channels. But when a mage reaches in and rips power out, maybe that causes corruption as a side effect, regardless of how careful they are being. Perhaps accepted human magic is just that which minimizes the damage.

Heppa considers an analogy from her medical work. When stitching a wound closed, one jabs the patient with a needle. If one does not sterilize the needle, an infection can result. But even with the sterilized needle, scars are still left behind from the insertion points. When considered that way, forbidden magic is just a sloppier technique than Alduin magic, one that has pollution or corruption as a side effect. Healing with fae energy, though, does not cause any additional injury, to the patient or to the world. At least not when done skillfully.  

Forbidden magic now definitely feels like a threat to the elvish way of life and the natural world itself. The only thing missing from Heppa’s learning today is a direct measurement of the corruption it causes; she still has not been able to work out how to do that herself. This whole troublesome matter is certainly something she needs to discuss with her father or perhaps Fenowin. It would be horrible to have to use woses as the measure, taking note of how damaged they are around human mages. 

Still unclear to Heppa, though, is how the aetherium relates to the fae. The woses can feel the corruption, and dapper inkcap can suffocate them. That seems to suggest that the corruption is affecting fae energies. Is this because something from the aetherium is splashing over into the fae? Or are they really the same energy source, and the corruption is directly caused by human efforts to wield power? She wonders whether Gaenyn would even care if she explained to him that his work was polluting fae energy. She certainly does not want him to think she and Tric are a threat while the elves are still surrounded by society members. Unsure of how to safely broach this topic with the shadow mages, Heppa picks up her pace a bit in order to catch up with Tric. He has better insights into humans than she does.

A bit distant from the humans, the elves quickly confer. “I think they’re releasing necromantic magic every time they do their magic,” Heppa quietly tells her cousin.

“I was going to say the same thing!” Tric hisses back. “I just talked with Dolmathengalin. He’s pretty sure what they’re doing is what’s disturbing the undead. It’s not good. The woses are going to move against the shadow mages when they try to ambush the caravan. I’m going to help Domathengalin because I screwed this up. I told Ulf where the Book of Rhys was; this is on me. I was meddling in things I did not understand.”

“I don’t think the Book of Rhys is the only reason why they’re able to do what they’re doing,” Heppa offers him as some comfort. 

“No, but it’s one reason. They didn’t need to have it. The tome was in a nice, safe place where almost no one was reading it. Except for Kachen. And, well, Heledd.” Tric waves away the digression. “But anyway, I’m going to help the woses—”

“All right, so we’re going to help the woses…”

“You don’t have to! I don’t want to force you into that situation.”

“Well, did they request our help?” Heppa asks. When Tric admits that Dolmathengalin did, Heppa considers her case made. “They’re woses,” she says simply, summing up how she feels about the ancient beings.

Tric nods. “Dolmathengalin gave me some of its seeds to give to Roombledoombledeur. It’s trusting us as those with short legs. I have to live up to that trust.” He outlines the plan for ambushing the ambushers and lets Heppa know he notified the Beard.

With that matter settled, Heppa shares her news. “My theory is that they’re actually polluting fae energy, that that is what the corruption is. I want to talk to the woses to find out how dangerous it is for them.”

“I feel like they wouldn’t be so concerned if it wasn’t dangerous for something,” Tric observes. Heppa acknowledges the point. Tric has a lot of common sense. “It wasn’t my intention to kick these fellows out of the forest here, but if they’re doing these kind of necromantic-touched experiments, they’re ruining things.”

“I think forbidden magic probably should stay forbidden,” Heppa says. 

Tric is glad to hear it, given the level of interest she has shown in some skull-topped artifacts in the past. “Maybe it was forbidden for a good reason, and everyone just forgot that reason. Or they didn’t know it, exactly.”

“I don’t even want to think right now about what the regular mages are doing!” Heppa says. “At least it’s nothing that the woses are complaining about yet.” She expresses some concern, though, about their own safety with the Society of Shadow, both now and after the conflict. There may still be information they could obtain, but not if they are viewed as enemies.

Tric is sure the elves will be blamed after the fact, whether there are witnesses or not, since trees will be the main attacking force. Still, he agrees that they should be as stealthy as they can, if for no other reason than to avoid getting struck by lightning.

“That’s going to pollute the fae magic even more!” Heppa groans, realizing what additional costs this caravan raid will have. “Well, I guess Gaenyn was looking for us to take some sort of side in this, wasn’t he?” She is on the side of the woses, of course. “Do you think that the shadow mages would care if they knew what they were doing?” she asks Tric.

“No,” he says flatly. “I don’t think they would see it as a problem. I don’t think they would understand. We’ve grown up in the forest. We at least have a little more context. Plus, I don’t think they would trust a wose’s word on the matter, let alone ours.”

“I suppose it would be like trying to explain to a sapling,” Heppa agrees.

“Yes. Can you explain to a tree growing its roots into a rock, that it will break the rock?”

Heppa nods. “I guess we got what we came for,” she says. She knows way more about the threats at play than she did when she left Estbryn Forest on this latest outing. Tric points out they can try going back through the society encampment after the ambush. They might still be able to get more information, depending on what papers or frightened non-combatants are left behind. Heppa assures him that she made some good notes already based on her conversations while he was scouting.

There is so much to think about, and she cannot help but spin new theories. “I wonder if you could stop human mages by somehow blocking whatever effect leads to the corruption,” she murmurs. “Maybe there’s some way elves could limit human access to magic…” If the aetherium is the same as fae energy, and the elves can protect that pool, it might stop all human magic.

“That sounds like a very long-term research project, and one that would require humans to experiment on. I don’t think they would take kindly to that,” Tric says. “But I bet Fenowin would be onboard.”

“Can you sense the corruption through your magic?” Heppa asks. What Tric and Glammur can do is magic of some form. “Where does your magical energy come from?”

“I don’t know,” Tric says. “I don’t feel like I’m directing any energy, other than the energy of the crowd. You know, the energy of the people around. It’s what gives me a rush when they all clap. I don’t think the energy comes from anywhere other than the very people who are engaged.”

“I hate to say it… but does it pollute?”

“I think that depends on what you do with it. But I don’t know. What I do is so different. And it’s also a lot more subtle. My best guess is that people contribute to that pool, so it’s all local. But I don’t know.” Tric likes the idea that his sort of magic is just splashing in small puddles.

Heppa mulls that over. “I wonder if a wose could tell…” 

The idea of experimenting on a wose, an inherently magical creature, makes Tric leery, but then he has a thought. “You know what? I’ll try it when we do our ambush. Maybe I can convince the woses that they can move faster.” That is far more palatable than the thought of trying to trick a wose. 

“There may be too much pollution around here already for them to tell over such a little thing, but it’s worth a try,” Heppa agrees. “I’m sure when we get back home, someone in the village can tell you if they sense anything when you do your magic.” She wonders, too, about how runic magic intersects with all this. Maybe the pollution happens when the runes are carved. Or maybe the crystals act as some sort of purifying filter. That is all a matter for another time, though. 

For now, the elves rejoin the humans, finish “showing” them elvish roads, and then recollect Butterbell and their gear from the Society of Shadow encampment now that the information exchange is complete.